An agreement by US, Europe, Russia and China on a draft of a new UN sanction resolution against Iran angered the Iranian leadership and dominated the coverage in the local media. President Ahmadinejad vowed Iran would continue its uranium enrichment program and called any new sanctions “unwise and unjust.” On domestic front, the upcoming parliamentary elections in the country dominated the news. The government disqualified more than 30% of the candidates from standing in the elections. Moderate and reformist parties announced that most of their candidates have been disqualified, putting them in an obvious disadvantage to reclaim the control of Majlis. On regional front, the government and the media lashed at Israel and US for the latest developments in Gaza. The Palestinians were portrayed as victims of an Israeli and US aggression and mass killing.
Iran’s Nuclear Program
· Iran's leadership criticized EU-3, US, Russian, and Chinese (5+1) agreement in Berlin on a draft of a new UNSC sanction resolution against Iran; Iran directly called on Moscow and Beijing to stop the implementation of the resolution.
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the 5+1 decision as irrelevant and unjust; Ahmadinejad said as far as Iran is concerned, “the nuclear issue is finished … the more resolutions they produce, the more problems they cause for themselves.”
· Iran accused US and EU-3 of rushing to draft a UNSC resolution prior to submission of a 3 March IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program; Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki said the “sudden action” taken by 5+1 suggests the West’s concern about a “breakthrough” between Iran and IAEA; Iran’s Parliament Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said US pressure for a resolution against Iran despite its own NIE suggests US unwillingness to settle the issue through international rules.
· Chairman of National Security Committee of the Majlis Alaedin Boroujerdi accused US of pushing for a resolution against Iran in order to affect Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections; Boroujerdi added that it is a “grave miscalculation” to think the a new sanction resolution would affect the elections.
· The draft resolution on Iran is to urge UN members to inspect cargo on Iranian ships and aircraft if they are suspected of transporting prohibited nuclear-related items.
· US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the move “deepens” sanctions against Iran and opens “new directions” like cargo inspections; Rice added that 5+1 agreement shows that Iran “continues to be isolated from the international community.”
· Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov characterized the draft resolution as “not harsh”; Lavrov said if Iran agrees with 5+1 proposals, direct negotiations with Iran involving the six nations, including the US, would follow.
· Deputy Director of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Javad Vaeedi announced that Iran has produced 300 tons of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas; Vaeedi said the UF6, a gas feed for uranium enrichment process, was produced at Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility; UF6 produced at Isfahan is to be sent to Natanz enrichment facilities for production of uranium fuel.
· Iran received its eighth and last nuclear fuel shipment from Russia; Director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Gholam Reza Aqazadeh said Iran has been given the fuel required for its Bushehr power plant; the delivered fuel is to be used for the initial load of Bushehr power plant's reactor.
· Iran was poised to test run an advanced uranium-enriching centrifuge (2); the new P-2 centrifuge was said to be more than twice as capable as the existing P-1 centrifuge; Iran has reported setting up approximately 3,000 P-1 centrifuges at the enrichment facility in Natanz.
· Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Iran is “quite advanced” in its work on atomic weapons; Barak added Iran may already be working on a nuclear warhead; Barak accused Iran of operating another clandestine enrichment operation beyond the one in Natanz; Barak sharply disagreed with US government’s NIE on Iran; he emphasized that Iranians “are quite advanced, much beyond the level of the Manhattan Project.”
· Tehran’s Friday Prayer Leader called on Islamic states to aid Palestinians; Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati asked the heads of Islamic countries “not to remain silent on the killing of Palestinians”; he urged them to act “in order to stop the crimes committed by the Zionist regime”; Jannati added that Iran considers the situation in Gaza as a testing ground for the Islamic states.
· An editorial on Gaza called on Muslims to unite in a retaliatory attack on American, European, and Israeli “sensitive centers” for “war crimes that these countries are committing in the Gaza Strip” to support Israel.
· Another editorial on Gaza said that Islamic regimes that prevent an attack on Israel must be “toppled.”
Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
· Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to make his first visit to Iraq; Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced in Tehran that Ahmadinejad has accepted an invitation from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to visit the country; the visit is expected to take place by mid-March.
· Iran’s foreign minister praised US moves to reduce its forces in Iraq as “a good decision”; he urged Washington to expedite handing over full control of the government, including security, to the Iraqi government; Mottaki also spoke approvingly of Britain’s move to hand in military control of Basra to Iraqi forces.
· US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that US plans to withdraw five combat brigades through next summer; the move is to bring the overall US troop level to about 130,000.
· Iran raises concerns with US about Iraq talks; Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki said Iran has serious “concerns about the next round of discussions with the Americans on Iraq”; he added that the two sides had been in communication over Iran’s concern and Iran is studying US response.
· Afghan Interior Ministry Spokesman Zemaira Bashary rejected allegation over road-side bombs supply from Iran to the Taliban in western Afghanistan; Bashary said no documents have yet proved that Iran has supplied 130 mines to the Taliban; Western media reports claimed that a number of the mines discovered in a military operation in Taliban's cache in Farah province bore Iran’s trade mark.
Leading Domestic Storylines
· Iranian election authorities barred nearly one-third of the 7,240 candidates applying to run in 14 March parliamentary elections; officials said some were involved in embezzlement or fraud, sympathized with terrorist groups or had a “tendency toward perverted cults”; moderate and reformist politicians barred from participating in the elections pledged to fight their disqualifications; some threatened to boycott the vote in an attempt to win back control of Majlis, Iran’s parliament.
· Esmail Gerami-Moghadam, a candidate from National Trust Party, politically moderate, said only 30% of the party’s candidates were able to stand for elections; Gerami-Moghadam added the government’s move to disqualify so many of is opponents does not guarantee a fair and free election; barred were 230 of about 300 candidates put up by the National Trust Party.
· Islamic Participation Front, a reformist group, announced that 190 of 200 of its candidates had been disqualified; Mujahedeen of the Islamic Revolution, another organization opposing Ahmadinejad’s government, had all its candidates disqualified.
· Remaining candidates are to be vetted by the Guardian Council; Guardian Council was expected to disqualify some of moderate and reformist candidates who made the first cut by the government; the final list if candidates is to be announced on 5 March for the 14 March elections.
· Iran vowed to retaliate against US bases in Gulf if US attacks first; Islamic Revolution Guards Corp. (IRGC) Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said his forces would retaliate against US military bases in the Persian Gulf if they are involved in any possible future attack on Iran; Gen. Jafari assured neighboring Arab countries that only US forces would come under counterattack; Jafari added that Iran’s long and medium-range rocket will put US troops in a “weak position.”
· Iran delayed signing of a gas sale and purchase agreement with Pakistan; Tehran communicated to Islamabad that the agreement could be signed in the second or third week of February; a senior official of Pakistan’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources said that gas price finalized for the project was based on Japan Crude Cocktail (JCC), some 40 per cent less than the current market price; Pakistan will save about $1 billion per year due to the pricing.